March 8, 2013

Friday Night Fight Flashback — Buster Douglas upsets Iron Mike Tyson

Tyson upset in Tokyo

World Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson made it look too easy. When Carl "The Truth" Williams made the mistake of firing a lazy jab early in the opening round, the champion immediately dipped to his left, before firing the fight ending left hook. Tyson's feet left the canvas as he threw the punch. BANG! And just like that, it was over. The fight took all of 93 seconds. Some of the late arrivals never made it to their seats. After the stoppage, Tyson quickly went to embrace the defeated challenger. "Don promised a hundred grand for a knockout," said the champion. King laughed.

"At the post fight press conference, Mike," he said. "In cash!"

When Larry Merchant brought up the name James "Buster" Douglas, a fighter who won on the undercard that night as a possible opponent, Tyson didn't hesitate to respond. "I take all comers, I don't duck no man! I'm the best fighter on the planet!" said the confident champion. During the post fight interview, "The Truth" insisted he wasn't "disbobulated" and that he could have continued.

Iron Mike appeared to be invincible as he defended his title for the ninth time. There was no reason to believe number ten would be any different. Just three years prior, Tyson had become the youngest fighter in boxing history to become heavyweight champion when he destroyed Trevor Berbick in two rounds in November of 1986. Douglas, who earned a 10-round decision over Oliver McCall that night, showed flashes of potential.

His father, William "Dynamite" Douglas, was a tough fighter in the 1960's, and trained his son in his youth.

Coming into the McCall fight, the 29 year old fighter from Columbus, Ohio was mentioned as a possible challenger for Tyson, but after his average performance, there wasn't any reason to believe he would have a chance. Douglas was considered an underachiever. Back in 1987, while ahead on points, Douglas was stopped by Tony Tucker in the later rounds while fighting for the vacant IBF heavyweight title. The word was he had the talent, but lacked the heart of an elite fighter.

Real money for the Real Deal
Besides, Don King's real focus was on a showdown with undefeated former cruiserweight champion Evander Holyfield in the near future. That was the real money fight. As far as anyone was concerned, Douglas was nothing more than a decent fighter. A stay busy fight, period. What no one factored into this upcoming fight was the contract battles between Don King and Bill Cayton or the marital problems between Tyson and actress-wife Robin Givens. In hindsight, there were plenty of factors in both camps that suggested this would not be just another Mike Tyson blowout as the fight neared. With Kevin Rooney no longer in the Tyson camp, the intensity level was no longer the same. Aaron Snowell may have been the new head trainer, but it was Tyson who called the shots. He decided when to train, and when to do his roadwork.

Just weeks before the fight, former heavyweight champion Greg Page, who was brought along as a chief sparring partner for Tyson, dropped the champion in training camp. For Buster Douglas, the situation was much, much worse. Just twenty three days before the fight, his mom, Lula Pearl, died of a sudden stroke. "My baby is going to beat Mike Tyson," is what she had told her friends earlier. Remembering his mother's words, the fighter used it as his inspiration, and instead of pulling out of the fight, he intensified his training.

The fight for the Undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World took place on February 11, 1990 in the Korakuen Stadium (Tokyo Dome) in Tokyo, Japan. The fight was fittingly called "Tyson's Back" because of Tyson's previous victorious visit against Tony Tubbs in 1988. To accommodate the U.S. audience, the fight took place about 9am CST in Tokyo. Douglas entered the ring first, and he received nothing more than a polite round of applause. The champion was next, and as Tyson 37-0 (33KO's) sprinted down the aisle, the response was surprisingly the same. "You could hear a rat piss on cotton," Snowell would later claim. As the fighters loosened up during the instructions, Douglas purposely avoided eye contact with the scowling champion. If Tyson interpreted that as a sign of weakness, he was in for a rude surprise.

Douglas got Tyson's respect early
At the bell, it was clear this was not the Douglas anyone expected. The challenger got off to a fast start, as he fired combinations behind a quick jab. Tyson tried to come forward, but he barely moved his head as he worked his way inside. Douglas 29-4 (19KO's) met him with a straight right hand to the head. Tyson struggled to find his rhythm, and an occasional lunging left hook was his only offense. The champion didn't let his hands go, and Douglas made him pay with right uppercuts and left hooks. Douglas didn't seem the least bit intimidated by the so called "baddest man on the planet." The straight right hand also landed whenever Tyson tried to bull his way inside. In between rounds, Snowell frantically tried to get his fighter on track. Still, Tyson had no answer for the 42-1 underdog in front of him.

Douglas repeatedly landed the jab and sometimes doubled it before firing the right hand. The tassels swayed back and forth on his shoes, as he fought on his toes and let his hands go. By the end of the fourth round, Tyson's left eye began to swell. Incredibly, the corner failed to have an enswell, a standard flat steel press to reduce the swelling, and had to resort to using a water ballooned latex glove to decrease the swelling. Meanwhile, the crowd remained eerily quite. "It was like they went to a movie, and Godzilla was coming to eat up the town, and Godzilla never showed up," Boston Globe reporter, Ron Borges was to comment later on. Needless to say, Don King did not look happy at ringside. Things got worse for Tyson, as he was wobbled in the fifth for the first time in the fight by a right hand. After seven surreal rounds, Tyson was clearly behind on points.

Douglas down for 9 in the 8th round
Suddenly, in the eighth, as Douglas stopped punching to admire his work, Tyson fired a right uppercut and Douglas crashed to the canvas! Luckily for Douglas, the punch didn't land flush, and instead, the fighter appeared more disgusted with himself than hurt, as he pounded the canvas with his glove. He picked up the referee's count before getting up at the count of nine. Before the champion could inflict any more damage, the bell rang to end the round. In the ninth, both men had their moments. Tyson jumped on his man early to see if he'd recovered from the knockdown, and landed a nice overhand right, but Douglas' ability to come back from the Tyson knockdown appeared to have a psychological affect on him.

On this night, Douglas would not be denied, and a big left hook wobbled Tyson badly. His legs barely held him up as he fell into the ropes. A combination to the head almost had the fighter out. Douglas wisely threw a double hook to the body, sucking the life out of his opponent. He even gave Tyson a forearm across the neck as he was trapped on the ropes, one of Tyson's favorite bullying tactics. Only the bell saved Tyson from further punishment. In the corner, Snowell tried frantically to revive the champion, but they had to know Mike's championship reign was about to come to an end. At the bell, Tyson was the first fighter off of his stool, and the one eyed fighter held his gloves up as he prepared for the onslaught that was sure to come. Douglas sensed the moment had arrived, and his dream was about to come true.

Tyson managed a good right hand early in the round, but it was his last hurrah.

Buster Douglas makes history in the 10th
With a stationary target now in front of him, Douglas peppered Tyson with a few solid jabs, before he pivoted and fired a right uppercut that nearly ripped the champion's head off. A right cross left hook combo had Tyson falling backwards, and another right cross left hook caught Tyson as he crashed to the canvas. Douglas stepped over the downed champion as he followed through with the last two punches. "Down goes Tyson," shouted Lampley. The champion was in a haze as he groped for his mouthpiece, before struggling up on unsteady legs. Referee Octavio Meyran took one look at the stricken fighter, and waived it over. "It's over! Mike Tyson has been knocked out!" declared Lampley. "Lets go ahead and call it the biggest upset in the history of heavyweight championship fights!" 

Time of the stoppage was 1:22 of the tenth round. In the ring, Larry Merchant interviewed the new heavyweight champion. "Why did it happen James? Why did you win this fight no one gave you a chance to win?" asked Lampley. "Cause I wanted it. For my mother, God bless her heart," sobbed the new champion, as he was overcome with emotion. "Dad, this is for you, I love you." It was truly an emotional moment for the Douglas camp. The mood was almost ruined later on by King, who wanted to have a hearing, claiming "Buster" received a long count. "The first knockout totally obliterates the second knockout!" was the reasoning of the animated promoter. It was something straight out of the WWF. Thankfully, the referee in the ring was the ultimate authority.

King eventually backed off, after the negative feedback he received.
Unfortunately, Douglas' shining moment didn't last long, as he was knocked out in three rounds by Evander Holyfield in his very first title defense. The now former champion was paid twenty four million dollars for his night's work, and retired to Florida. No longer active, Douglas' weight ballooned to almost 400 pounds before he almost lost his life in a diabetic coma. Thankfully, the fighter recovered. Grateful for a second chance, Douglas lost the weight and  made a comeback, winning eight of his next nine fights.

Buster Douglas retired for good with a record of 38-6-1-1 (25 KOs) in 1999.

As for Tyson, things went down hill after the bout. Just four fights later, he was sent to prison for rape of a beauty queen. When he returned three years later, most of the Tyson fans were excited when he recaptured the WBC title against Frank Bruno, but his aura of invincibility was gone forever after his crushing defeats to Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. Still, he remains one of the sports biggest and most famous box office draws. Tyson now has his own one man show on Broadway called "Undisputed Truth." He has also made cameo appearances in movies and television shows. Tyson was elected into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in June 2011.

His final record is 50-6-2 (44 KOs).   

David McLeod of KO Digest

The Friday Night Fight Flashback you just enjoyed was written by David McLeod, exclusively for KO Digest. Each week David will flash back to a different fight in boxing history. Read more of David's work at WWW.KODigest.TV including credentialed Ringside Reports from Madison Square Garden and other boxing hotbeds in the NYC area.